This is the real reason why babies put everything in their mouth, according to an expert (and no, it's not just because they're teething)

Plus, we share some top tips for keeping your baby safe while mouthing

A close up of a baby with teething rings in its mouth
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A new survey has revealed the top items babies love to put in their mouths - but the reason why they do it might surprise you...

Parents out there will know that pretty much as soon as they are able to, babies will want to put anything and everything in their mouth. You might be wondering whether this means it's time to think about how to start weaning, or whether you should try baby-led weaning (armed with one of the best baby food makers). Or perhaps it could be teething - in which can you might want to look at some of these sensory toys for six-year-olds. But in reality, the reason why your baby is desperate to get their jaws around your phone is very different.

According to research from Heinz Family, three quarters of parents worry about germs when their little one puts items in their mouth, with 85 per cent saying they are more likely to monitor what their child is putting in their mouth in public spaces because of germs, while 59 per cent worrying more about germs in winter than in other seasons.

And with almost all parents surveyed experiencing their young child putting non-food items in their mouth an average of 88 times a week, Heinz Family is offering a reassuring hand to parents with the creation of The Good Mouth Guide, which features tips and advice on how to navigate this stage.

The Good Mouth Guide was developed in collaboration with registered dietitian and baby weaning expert Sarah Almond Bushell, who shared the real reason why babies love to put household objects in their mouth.

"Baby mouthing has so many benefits for young children; it’s how they learn and explore the world around them," Sarah explained. "It’s an essential step in their development. As parents, our role is to facilitate this experiential learning while making sure baby stays safe. Providing a diverse range of appropriate items to explore, from chilled vegetables to baby-friendly toothbrushes, can ease teething discomfort and enhance sensory development, and we hope with the help of the advice in the Good Mouth Guide you can relax and have fun with it too."

A baby lying on its back holding the corner of a smartphone in its mouth

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sarah's top tips for helping parents find the joy in baby mouthing:

  • Rest assured that mouthing is an important and essential developmental milestone – even if it is a bit dribbly!
  • Baby-proof your house so that you don’t need to worry so much about them picking up and mouthing foods or items that could be dangerous
  • Offer up foods for them to mouth, such as sweet potato cut into wedges and baked, strips of omelette, cubes of cheese, slow cooked casseroled meat like beef or lamb, banana cut lengthways, steamed broccoli florets, roasted parsnips (without honey)
  • Buy a variety of teething toys for your baby made from natural materials so that they can explore and enjoy lots of different textures safely – keep them in your change bag so you’ve got them handy to switch out for other, less safe items
  • Teach your baby what’s appropriate and what’s not, for example: “let’s leave the dogs toy for the dog” while taking the item gently from them. You can do this from a young age – they’ll get it eventually.

The best everyday items for babies to mouth

  • Their hands - This is often how mouthing starts and babies have more control over where to put them and how far they go into the mouths.
  • Other body parts - Often the little gymnasts can chomp on their own feet!
  • A baby toothbrush - Perfect for getting them used to having a toothbrush in their mouths even before teeth erupt.
  • Teethers - It’s good to have a variety of textures and shapes to enhance exploration and learning. Look for ones made from natural rubber or food grade silicone that’s BPA free.
  • A weaning spoon - These are often made from a warm, soft material like food grade silicone which is kind to irritated, teething-tastic gums.
  • Certain vegetables - carrot sticks, sliced pepper, raw sugar snap peas or green beans are perfect for babies from six months, and contrary to popular belief these are not a choking risk until your baby can bite chunks off (which is usually when they have teeth).
  • Refrigerated veggie sticks - Like cold cucumber can be soothing if your baby is mouthing in an attempt to relieve the dreaded teething pain.

The Heinz Family survey also saw parents sharing some of the strangest and most shocking items little ones have managed to put in their mouths, including old chewing gum, cat litter, a lump of coal, a pet’s tail, slugs and even toilet brushes and dirty nappies - yuck!

10 most common items babies love to mouth

  1. Mobile phone (42%)
  2. Keys (38%)
  3. Crayons/paint/paint brushes (35%)
  4. Wet wipes (34%)
  5. Shoes (25%)
  6. Pet’s toys (24%)
  7. Glasses or sunglasses (22%)
  8. Wires (17%)
  9. Seasonal decorations (16%)
  10. Hair (15%)

You might also want to start thinking about the best baby food recipes and the top healthy baby led weaning recipes.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.